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To Cuff or Not to Cuff

While I can’t say that to cuff or not to cuff is “the question” in a fantasy draft, it is certainly one you have to ask yourself. In this age of running backs by committee there are fewer and fewer every down backs to choose from. The day of old when domination by backs like Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, Shaun Alexander, etc. is pretty much non-existent now and timesharing is the new big thing. I really cannot blame a team for wanting to keep its/their prize back(s) healthy and on the field longer, but that doesn’t make things any easier on fantasy owners who have to guess where the carries are going each week. In this article we take a look at some of the arguments both for and against handcuffing in ‘09, some things to consider before drafting a cuff, as well as the best and worst backfields to handcuff.

Arguments For and Against

The basic idea behind handcuffing is that drafting a stud running back is just as much an investment in that team’s running game as the individual player. For example, by getting Maurice Jones-Drew this year you are drafting the Jaguars running attack as a whole. And if by chance Jones-Drew was to miss a game, you would have his backup ready to plug in. As a Brian Westbrook owner last season, I can assure you having Correll Buckhalter on my team made things much easier during Weeks 3 and 6 when Westbrook was out. Even though drafting the backup running back is a pick spent on someone you hope to never use, it is insurance. This way if your prize runner goes off the field on a cart due to injury, you won’t be praying for a waiver-wire miracle to get next week’s starter. This also prevents someone else from taking advantage of your misfortune by getting potentially high production out of a player they stole late in the draft or hawked from the waiver wire.

Those fantasy players that are against handcuffing generally feel that it is a wasted pick and roster spot. They believe by drafting solid depth at the running back position, you would have someone else on your roster that could come off the bench should an injury occur. They also feel that in almost every scenario one of these two factors comes into play. Either the dropoff in production from the feature runner to the backup is too large to waste a pick on or the secondary back would have to be taken too high and there is still good value to be drafted elsewhere. While I can definitely agree with some of the anti cuff arguments, I do feel that there are still several examples where cuffing is not only a good decision, it could be the one that helps keep a playoff caliber team from spending the playoff weeks in the consolation bracket.

Some Things to Consider

The first thing you need to look at when handcuffing a backfield is the reserve back. If there is no clear indication of who the second back would be, or the value of the second back in a starting role is less than that of an equal draft pick, then it is not a good decision to handcuff. To simplify this let’s use the 2009 Atlanta Falcons as an example. Michael Turner is a consensus first round pick in non-PPR leagues and his backup is Jerious Norwood.

Norwood is currently going in the 11th round of a 12-team draft alongside players like Fred Taylor (Patriots RB), Kevin Curtis (Eagles WR), and Willis McGahee (Ravens RB). To determine his cuff value, you cannot look at what he will produce when Turner is healthy. Just like with auto insurance, you have to look at what the worth is if something bad happens. In this case I strongly feel that

Norwood would be much more productive in a starting role than the other players available in that round. To me that makes him a smart handcuff.

If the team you are picking from is in a three-back system, such as the Cowboys or Jets, you want to cuff the primary back with the runner that most closely matches their style. I can assure you that if Marion Barber gets injured it won’t be Felix Jones that carries the load. He is best as a change-of-pace back and that is how

Dallas will use him even if the Barbarian breaks down. In

New York I highly suggest you draft Shonn Greene as the handcuff for Thomas Jones. Leon Washington will get his 10-12 touches a game regardless of whether Thomas is healthy or not. Drafting what is considered the third back in these systems will also allow you to get the cuff later in the draft, saving the higher draft pick that it would cost to get the Jones’ and the Washington’s of the league.

Teams to Avoid and Five Must Cuffs

Here are some teams you do not want to consider handcuffing for the 2009 season …

New England – If I can’t find a single positive thing to say about drafting one patriot back, there is no way I can tell you to draft two of them. Picking multiple Patriot backs is a lot like letting Michael J. Fox perform open heart surgery; neither ends well.

Indianapolis – Both Joseph Addai (ADP of Round 5) and Donald Brown (ADP Round 7) are being drafted too high to take this duo at a good value. The Colts should get back to passing this year, and when they do run there is still no sure sign of who will be getting the carries by mid-season.

St. Louis – Even if Antonio Pittman is the guaranteed backup, the team is so bad that it’s a miracle Steven Jackson gets any production. That backfield begins and ends with him.

New Orleans – This duo would cost you a fifth round (Pierre Thomas) and seventh round (Reggie Bush) and that isn’t worth the production you would get. These two work as separate entities with Thomas getting the bulk of the carries and Bush getting the ball in space through the air.

Tennessee – The duo of Chris Johnson and not so fat LenDale White is actually too good to handcuff. Having both of these backs would lead to a difficult decision on which one to play each week. These guys produce enough on their own and only having one avoids the risk involved with two players from the same offense during a bad week.

Carolina – Same as


You get the idea. As a closer, here are my five must cuff backs for 2009 …

5.) Marshawn Lynch Fred Jackson

(if hand injury is non-issue)

4.) Frank Gore Glen Coffee

3.) Matt Forte Kevin Jones

2.) Adrian Peterson



1.) Brian Westbrook LeSean McCoy

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